Traditions: Kashrut

Rabbi Tzvi Fischer, Portland Kollel
“Why is kashrut relevant today?”

To eat kosher is to eat more spiritual.

The Torah repeatedly reminds us that its precepts are timeless and eternal. That makes kashrut as relevant as it ever was. The ideas of kashrut – referred to in the Torah as issues of Kedushah (holiness) and Taharah (spiritual connectedness) (see Leviticus 20:25-26) – are not about ancient health concerns but rather are there to help us be conscious of a higher state at times of physical indulgence. Even today, as we consume the food that our body needs for its survival, kashrut reminds us that our Creator has a plan for how we can best keep our spiritual being alive together with our body.

To be kosher is to be more communal.

As a community, I see the need for kosher foods and events. Over the last generation we have increasingly become a big tent community. Providing kosher certification, having the Mittleman Jewish Community Center certified kosher and communal kosher events means that all members of the community can participate. If we are going to welcome all to our events and to the communal organizations, we must also make sure that Jews living by our traditions can participate.

To eat kosher is to eat more safely.

Additionally, with the realities of modern food production and the global marketplace, kashrut is even more relevant today. We eat more processed foods than ever before. These foods are processed with ingredients that are sourced from all over the world, including underdeveloped countries. Governmental agencies either do not have the resources or are too beset by conflicts of interest to effectively enforce food safety. Kosher-certified products have the benefit of an independent, nongovernmental, third-party audit that ensures the purity of the food we eat. This additional pair of eyes keeps the companies aware of their own need to provide a healthier, safe product. This may be why the kosher food market is the fastest-growing market in the U.S. It mostly caters to non-Jews and is larger than the organics, gluten-free, vegan and whole grain markets combined.

Rabbi Laurie Rutenberg, Gesher
“Is eco-kashrut changing the way we eat?”

It is perhaps even truer in Judaism that “you are what you eat.” Who doesn’t love their grandmother’s kugel, knishes or matzah ball soup? You want to be Jewish? One profound way is to eat Jewish. 

Does that apply to morality? Can you be moral by eating moral? The answer is: yes, kind of. The first Jewish diet was a failure. In the Garden of Eden, Adam is told, be a tiller and a tender. You can eat any fruits of the trees. The implication: eat fruits and nuts – there’s no killing involved. But it didn’t work. Just ask Cain and Abel. For Noah, God proposed a compromise: OK, eat meat, but don’t eat the blood. Implication: maybe you won’t become bloodthirsty. Jews received additional restrictions. Eat only domesticated animals. Implication: maybe you’ll be more civilized.

But how does this apply to our lives today? Are Jewish eating and morality equivalent? Eco-kashrut says yes.

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi first coined the term. It returns us to humanity’s original purpose: to be tillers and tenders, stewards of the Earth. Can a Jew in this overpopulated world eat without thinking about treatment of workers, treatment of animals, and treatment of our own bodies? Eco-kashrut says no, because Jewish laws about all these issues apply directly to how we eat. 

If you eat meat, you have to consider not just the act of killing, but the implications of raising animals with antibiotics and pesticides on massive, pollution-producing, factory farms. We may choose not to eat animals at all, or we may choose to eat only cage-free chickens and pasture-fed cows. If you eat conventional produce, consider both the quality of your food and whether workers earn a fair wage. If you indulge in chocolate or coffee, consider whether children are being enslaved for your benefit. If you buy non-local foods, consider the ecological and health implications of the packaging and transportation.

Keeping kosher just got a lot more complicated. Still, I hope you enjoy challenging yourself and eating!

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